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In Distrust Of Movements
February 4, 2012 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Twelve years before Occupy Wall Street Wendell Berry imagined something like it.

In his essay, "In Distrust of Movements," Berry proposed a "Movement to Teach the Economy What It is Doing" - which the Occupy movements at least attempted. Interestingly, the very qualities that prompted Berry to say he didn't trust movements are the very ones the media wanted to the Occupy movement to have:

"I am dissatisfied with such efforts because they are too specialized, they are not comprehensive enough, they are not radical enough, they virtually predict their own failure by implying that we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place. Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behavior."
posted by eustacescrubb (53 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love Berry's ideas and his writing. I fear the coming "but he's so unrealistic" complaints that inevitably follow his brave suggestions.
posted by kneecapped at 2:44 PM on February 4, 2012


I love Berry too, but I'm not going to live in his world. Maybe that's like saying "He's so unrealistic!" But I prefer to think of it as saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:04 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yep, it's definitely not the same world we're living in today. Which is one thing strongly in its favor.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:10 PM on February 4, 2012


I'd have to include myself on the list of people who, in one way or another, say he's unrealistic. Which nags at me, since he may well be right, and I may well simply be a coward for saying "Thanks but no thanks," tacitly, by my lifestyle. I'm a bit Macbethian I suppose, "I am in blood stepp'd in so far ... "
posted by kneecapped at 3:11 PM on February 4, 2012


I think there's a difference between calling something unrealistic as a way of dismissing it, and thinking that something is unrealistic but very interesting & helpful to think about in the pursuit of more attainable ends.

(I go back and forth on Berry -- I'm simply too much of an urbanite to really go for his whole picture, but I do find his ideas always at least worth reflecting on.)
posted by feckless at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Berry's writing and ideas were largely responsible for our moving out of the city and onto 6 acres - barn, garden, chickens, local food, ethnic heritage, etc. We love it. We're happy, but we're still only circling around Berry's vision. I feel we've got such a long way to go.

I love his nine criteria for tech innovations (fr his essay Why I'm Not Going to Buy a Computer), which, if followed, would probably cause us to live as he'd hope the mttewiid would. But how I can I live by this vision today?

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

posted by kneecapped at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Self-correcting systems are cool, and the Earth's biosphere is surely one. Too bad it means a lot of pain and suffering for those alive during corrections.

Every human alive today should recognize that they are lucky to live before the huge chain reaction of environment and social crashes that are basically guaranteed to happen within several generations. Obviously we should be doing whatever we can not to fuck things up any worse for those who will be alive, and in pain, and suffering. So yeah, Berry's world is ours, for any useful meaning of "ours".
posted by anarch at 3:36 PM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Put me in the "interesting, thoughtful, but unrealistic" camp on Wendell Berry generally. I like where he's coming from, but the society he wants is gone and isn't coming back; I do think we can learn some useful things from what he sees as the value of that society.

Just don't tell him that I keep a collection of his essays on my Kindle.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:05 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like where he's coming from, but the society he wants is gone and isn't coming back;

The society he wants never existed. It's up to us to build it or something like it. If we keep thinking along the lines of "I am unwilling to risk my current material comfort so that others, present and future, may be less miserable", however, we'll never do it.
posted by Jon_Evil at 4:16 PM on February 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


But how I can I live by this vision today?

If anything that list of technology rules isn't nearly visionary enough. The problem with technological revolutions is that it's hard to see what is needed for them to happen, and it's often a weird combination of technologies which suddenly work together in such a way to produce an Internet or a combustion engine or whatever, and then poof, you're off to the races.

Berry seems to be (admittedly not reading too far on this) underestimating communications technology as a means for social change. Which is something I am deepy critical of; it's all well and good to live a back-to-the-land lifestyle and eschew technology as destructive but as Derrick Jensen points out, that's not resistance, that's quitting. Industrial society will still continue on without you, doing as it does.
posted by mek at 4:19 PM on February 4, 2012


The solutions of modern medicine and modern agriculture are all staggeringly expensive, and this is caused in part, and maybe altogether, because of the availability of huge sums of money for medical and agricultural research
Defund medical research, *that's* human progress! Yeah.... No. I don't think his stuff is unrealistic, I think it's basically uninformed and selfish.
posted by smidgen at 4:21 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is no significant urban constituency, no formidable consumer lobby, no noticeable political leadership, for good land-use practices, for good farming and good forestry, for restoration of abused land, or for halting the destruction of land by so-called “development”.

Yet we somehow manage to spend billions on departments of Agriculture and Interior, not to mention an Environmental Protection Agency, and billions and billions more on these issues at every state level.

It's not that we collectively ignore these issues because we're too dumb to put down the Twinkies. It's that the issues are colossally mismanaged and lobbied to death. Better land use practices? We have plenty of places within government where we can start.

But the word "vote" doesn't appear anywhere in this essay. No, just some squishy bullshit about protest movements.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:54 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The notion of prefigurative politics has been around for quite a while now. Popular response to these methods as novelties is sadly a recurring theme. Consider the following by David Graeber in his reflections on the WTO protests:
When protesters in Seattle chanted “this is what democracy looks like,” they meant to be taken literally. In the best tradition of direct action, they not only confronted a certain form of power, exposing its mechanisms and attempting literally to stop it in its tracks: they did it in a way which demonstrated why the kind of social relations on which it is based were unnecessary. This is why all the condescending remarks about the movement being dominated by a bunch of dumb kids with no coherent ideology completely missed the mark. The diversity was a function of the decentralized form of organization, and this organization was the movement’s ideology

David Graber ("Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology," 1999 p85, pdf here)
posted by honest knave at 5:41 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


This was a really great essay and I didn't come away from it with the idea that he was actually proposing starting a movement. What was most useful for me was the idea that a 'movement' isn't necessarily going to change the way that we as people live on this earth. If things are going to change we need to start living differently, not starting a movement or making a plaque or developing a standard, or radically changing the structure of our society, but changing the way we look at what we do and how we do it, our approach and our goals. If we are to have an economy with a larger conscience and consciousness, it must of necessity come from those participating in it. I also didn't see it as a call for going back in time, though it does have an appeal to simplicity. I really think the part about respecting where things come from and how they get to us is at the heart of it.

I also think it's possible to have things like electricity and networking and machinery that's used in a manner respectful to the people making use of it and the earth they use it on. My hope is that we're able to make this happen and make cleaner sources of renewable energy for the future while we still have time. I think makerspaces have the potential to change the way we make and service things and we're at a point where most reasonably sized towns could put together a shared community shop. With things like CNC, 3D printing, metalworking, and electronics most items could be produced and serviced on a local level. Sourcing materials and components is another ballgame right now, but I think if people worked at it we could find ways to redesign things to be less dependent on rare metals, chemicals, etc.
posted by nTeleKy at 5:41 PM on February 4, 2012


The solutions of modern medicine and modern agriculture are all staggeringly expensive, and this is caused in part, and maybe altogether, because of the availability of huge sums of money for medical and agricultural research

Lets see what Mr. Berry saw:

The Mighty Google Says:
Monsanto ~ Corporate Profile
www.monsanto.com/investors/pages/corporate-profile.aspx
Monsanto invested more than $980 million last fiscal year researching new tools for farmers. The annual research-and-development (R&D) budget is targeted at roughly 9% to 10% of sales.
The Planet Versus Monsanto - Forbes.com
www.forbes.com/.../americas-best-company-10-gmos-dupont-planet-...
Dec 31, 2009 – Monsanto's research budget is now split equally between genetic engineering and conventional breeding. "If you have incredibly brilliant ...
Food: Inside the hothouses of industry : Nature News
www.nature.com/news/2010/100728/full/466548a.html
Jul 28, 2010 – Monsanto's annual research budget alone is US$1.2 billion, just topping the US federal government's total spend on agricultural science of ...



The scope of the 'problem' $900ish million. Is the use of propaganda to get laws passed to maximise their profit an equal problem?

Monsanto's Monster Lobbying Budget. Monsanto spent $8831120 for lobbying in 2008. $1492000 was to outside lobbying firms with the remainder being spent ...
Seed funding: Monsanto plants millions in image advertising - St ...
www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/print-edition/2011/.../seed-funding.html

Nope. But lets look at other propaganda - telling you, the farmer, how the Glyphosate and inserting insect killing toxins in corn are good ideas. (Research is only starting on the organ damage tied to glyphosate. But the application of glyphosate does screw up the soil food web which Mr. Berry should have been aware of and the effect of BT inserted into corn/potatoes is rather damning for the product use)

Jul 29, 2011 – Monsanto's marketing budget, which includes both brand and corporate marketing, totaled $839 million in 2010, down from $934 million in ...

Mr. Berry is passing up something that isn't actually needed to have a shot at creating a benefit - research. For every $1 spent - 10% (ish) is research and 10% is trying to convince you to do what you just did.

Now one might want to blame the lawyers - ones going after others for "taking their IP" via saving seeds that have 'their' genetic material.

(again Google)
Monsanto sues and sues and sues and...
www.keepmainefree.org/suesuesue.html
It has 75 employees and an annual budget of $10 million.

(Want to be a rabble rouser? It seems $10,000 is all ya need for a DNA sequencer. Imagine the underwear knot twisting one could do. Get some Monsanto-IP free seeds, if findable. Test plants to confirm. Grow out a crop of pure seeds then plant outside. Test plants. When THEN found with Monsanto IP demand they remove their product from YOUR seeds while keeping your seeds viable. They argue its their property, you are accepting their argument. So get your 'property' out of my 'property'....just as reasonable as patenting life.)

But the word "vote" doesn't appear anywhere in this essay.

Perhaps Mr. Berry figured out that the voting system is rigged and therefore isn't worth one's time? But rather than guess....why not actually search for such?

Oh wait - he DOES have an opinion.
"I am well aware of the proposition that citizens ought to exercise their right to vote at every election. Even so, I did not vote in Kentucky's gubernatorial primary on May 27. I did not vote because there was nobody on the ballot whom I wished to help elect. I could not bring myself to submit again to the indignity of trying to pick the least undesirable candidate; nor did I want to contribute to the "mandate" of a new governor, who would be carried into office by corporate contributions, and whose policies I would spend the next four years regretting or opposing."

Rather than then calling "bullshit" - why don't you show how Mr. Berry's actual stated position elsewhere is "bullshit"?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:23 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fear the coming "but he's so unrealistic" complaints that inevitably follow his brave suggestions.

Mr. Berry has some 'how to make a viable living as a farmer' writings.

But if one wants to question making one's way on the land - there is always The World’s Premier Website for Intelligent Truth-seeking Honest People. Oh, the plans one can find there for growing food to sell. Go ahead. Dive in. Then go back to Mr. Berry as he'll look righter than rain.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:28 PM on February 4, 2012


But how I can I live by this vision today?

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.

(The new tool may use plastic or is engineered to 'use this much metal and no more'. The old tool may be considered 'overengineered' by todays finite element analysis. Thus the old tool may have been more expensive but may actually last longer.)

2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.

(See the finite element analysis complaint. The bigger, older tool may be better as it will last longer or be able to be repaired)

3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.

(Again, that bigger tool may be repairable)

5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.

(Fossil Fuels are old solar energy - is that what you ment?)

6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.

(How are you going to replace the plastic? And how far ya wanna take this? How many of you have the raw material to smelt down to iron? The smelter? The tools to take the result of the poured hot metal and make the replacement? About as many as have the ability and tools in your own personal collection to make a silicon chip from scratch. Face it kiddos - we all stand on the backs of others)

7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.

(I just spent the 1st 4 of your points complaining about exactly this. Think plastic linkage between the handle on a snowblower and the engage/disengage mechanics on an auger? Then think how the new replacement is a painted thin hunk of metal that rusts out and needs replacing 2 years later once the paint was scratched.)

8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.

(With todays IP laws - what small shop can afford the IP of others? Not to mention your "use less energy and be small and be cheaper " - Go ahead, show how a local shop is going to have the tools to repair the mass produced do-dad. And show how the labor to even OPEN a machine pays to keep the older machine VS just buying a new do-dad?)

9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

(Hrmmm. Good. Family and Community. While it is a nice idea that "family" and "community" are "good" - given the existence of divorce, child protective services, elder abuse lines et la - putting 'family' as a value 'good' doesn't address the many actually 'bad' families along with less than functional communities.)

Now back to the original question - How can I live these values today?
Perhaps the values are not without their own flaws and in dealing with flawed humans interacting in flawed ways it is not possible to live the values listed unless you have less flawed people, less flawed communities, and the products produced are not "flawed"?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:50 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


For anyone looking for this in print form, it's in his 2003 compilation, Citizenship Papers (sorry if that link is wonky; I'm on my phone). Also in that book is an essay — The Total Economy (2000) — that fits the Occupy movement and other Citizens United protests. For example:
The folly at the root of this foolish economy began with the idea that a corporation should be regarded, legally, as "a person." But the limitless destructiveness of this economy comes about precisely because a corporation is not a person. A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance. Unlike a person, a corporation does not age. It does not arrive, as most persons finally do, at a realization of the shortness and smallness of human lives; it does not come to see the future as the lifetime of the children and grandchildren of anybody in particular. It can experience no personal hope or remorse, no change of heart. It cannot humble itself. It goes about its business as if it were immortal, with the single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money.
It's a great collection of essays, and is only $10 at Amazon (!). You can also read more at Google Books.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:59 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay: How can I live by this vision today?

None of us live according to one coherent vision. We're all, to one degree or another, making it up as we go along. Berry is essential, as is Zuckerberg (bad eg, I know but I needed one for the other end), at defining the limits of the spectrum. Berry presents me with an important counterpoint to the shitstorm of everything else. His ideas cut through, because they're so "other."

We all live in the irony of the real. I'm reading and debating Wendell Berry's ideas (a man who writes with a pencil and farms with horses in Kentucky - at least he did) on my notebook computer, communicating with folks that I appreciate in this online community which, in some weird e-way, mimics a townhall that Berry would recognize. Yet we might all be better off, from Berry's point of view, if this medium had never come to be.

Still here it is, and here we are, being human in spite of it. Berry is tenacious in hanging on to his principles, but I would love to hear from him a nuanced discussion of the merits of rough ashlar's directing me to a website that features links such as "All-Mineral Organic Gardening", or of a group of Egyptians upending a corrupt government via Twitter. Both of these are very real, back to the earth sorts of movements with real live back to the earth sorts of results. Help me understand Wendell, whether my trying to shut the barn door will make it more likely for the horse to return.
posted by kneecapped at 8:56 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I disbelieve, and therefore strongly resent, the assertion that I or anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil.
I was on board with his ideas until this point. I respect his principled rejection of computers as foes of his ideals, but this is just silly. I shudder to think how long it would take me to write this comment had I needed to scratch it into a piece of looseleaf paper with a sharpened hunk of granite. I suppose there's a fine line between being a Luddite and just a contrarian.
posted by deathpanels at 10:13 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those are a lot of fancy words just to tell damn kids to get off your organic lawn.

As far as utopias go, this one does show a lot of there there, does it?
posted by falameufilho at 10:47 PM on February 4, 2012


I've known Wendell my entire life. I spent as much time with him as I did my own father during my childhood. So, I'm only going to say this one thing;

Wendell has lived the bulk of his life by these principles, and has made a more free, clean, virtuous, and examined life than anyone else I've known.
posted by broadway bill at 12:11 AM on February 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


I define "unrealistic" as "imagining we can continue to put the pressures we're putting on the biosphere forever because... well, because we really want to, goshdarnit, and because we're such beautiful and unique snowflakes that we deserve it". I suspect Reality has other ideas, and our children and grandchildren will become very aware of this fact.
posted by jhandey at 4:32 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


It must be noted that Berry is a commited counter-revolutionary and in that sense a classic conservative. The revolution he opposes is the Green Revolution, which has brought the rate of starvation and child mortality down considerably in every country where it caught on. As Norman Borlaug put it:

"some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels...If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

Berry doesn't have a comfortable office suite, but he is insulated from the real strains of agricultural poverty by the income from his poetry and essays, not to mention that his fame allows him to maintain a successful winery in Kentucky, which would otherwise be nearly impossible. Like I said above, I love his work, I find it immensely challenging and totally beautiful. But ultimately, it's HIS lifestyle that is unsustainable.

22,000 children under five die every day from easily treated poverty related diseases. That number used to be three times higher. Wendell Berry's poetry inspires lives lived reflectively and with purpose; Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution makes those lives and inspiration possible.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:53 AM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not familiar with Berry's writings at all since this is the first essay of his I've read, but extrapolating from it I'd wager that Berry's objections to the Green Revolution are the same as mine and Borlaug's - it's nothing more than a stopgap measure that provides only temporary relief to the underlying problem:
Perhaps more than anyone Borlaug recognized that the Green Revolution was only a "temporary success in man's war against hunger," because politics and the rapidly increasing population had prevented the achievement of a well-fed world.

Borlaug continued to warn that despite the success of the Green Revolution, "Mushrooming populations, changing demographics, and inadequate poverty-prevention programs [had] eroded many of the gains of the Green Revolution."

Borlaug wrote: "We need to bring common sense into the debate on agricultural science and technology, and the sooner the better." For Borlaug, the choice was not between feast guaranteed by chemical technology and famine ordained by the environment. Rather, agricultural science could create the opportunities for farmers to produce a sustainable agriculture, which had to be "farm friendly--economically advantageous, drudgery-mitigating, and simple enough that poor farmers are able to adopt the new techniques."
posted by Bangaioh at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


links such as "All-Mineral Organic Gardening",

The idea of mineral gardening has support from others (The re-minerize the earth people and an old USDA study trotted out by the people selling rock dust) - I included 'the peacock' as buried in there is Wendell inspired berry garden. And I'm betting Wendell could get behind the recommendation to use the gasket-less pressure cooker. (the rock dust brought me back to that site in the old format, the pressure cooker took me there the 1st time and the pure crazy had me image copy the old site - 50 megs worth at the end of the 20th century)

Mr. Berry's dislike of the research may be tied to a distrust of the products being developed by big Ag.

in the cafeteria of the Monsanto pharmaceutical factory is High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, advising customers “as far as practicable, GM soya and maize (has been removed) from all food products served in our restaurant. We have taken the steps to ensure that you, the customer, can feel confident in the food we serve.”

posted by rough ashlar at 7:41 AM on February 5, 2012


I think it is probably important to point out that "Why I'm Not Going to Buy A Computer" was first written and published in 1986, back when personal computers were incredibly expensive and didn't do very much.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sigh. I only wanted to make one comment, but a correction is necessary.

"...he is insulated from the real strains of agricultural poverty by the income from his poetry and essays, not to mention that his fame allows him to maintain a successful winery in Kentucky, which would otherwise be nearly impossible."

Wendell and Tanya, his wife, began their way of life fairly promptly on their return from California, prior to much fame or fortune. While you are certainly right that Wendell's success has somewhat shielded him personally from agricultural poverty, it is laughable to think that he does not see and understand rural poverty in America, living in Henry County, Kentucky.

Wendell Berry does not own or maintain a winery.

And I am unsure as to how you came up with the idea that a winery in Kentucky would be impossible without his involvement. We have several wineries and vineyards here.
posted by broadway bill at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The revolution he opposes is the Green Revolution, which has brought the rate of starvation and child mortality down considerably in every country where it caught on.

And was dependent on huge and ultimately unsustainable amounts of chemical fertilizers and water, incidentally helping to cause huge environmental problems. Bringing down child mortality is great, but again, good intentions won't change the nature of reality in order to make industrial agriculture - or industrial civilization - sustainable in the long run. The universe just doesn't work like that. Sorry.

The argument seems to go like this: technology X-Y-Z does this or that wonderful thing! Therefore, questioning either the consequences of technology X-Y-Z or pointing out that, say, easily available petroleum supplies aren't infinite, no matter how hard we pray that Tax Cut Jesus or the Great God Progress miracles a few million barrels into our backyards, makes you a Luddite counterrevolutionary crank!
posted by jhandey at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bringing down child mortality is great, but...

Seriously, if you can honestly keep writing this sentence, I wish you well but I'm glad you're powerless to make global agricultural policy. Bringing down child mortality is great. Period. That's how the sentence goes. The rest of what your write is just a straw man; I can be anti-child mortality without being pro-tax cut.

Berry doesn't own a winery but his daughter does.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Berry doesn't own a winery but his daughter does."

Fair enough. His daughter and son-in-law converted their dairy farm into a winery. I still fail to see how that has anything at all to do with the topic or discussion at hand. Moreover, I do not understand your contention that some association with Wendell Berry makes the operation and maintenance of a winery possible in Kentucky.


Whatever though, I did not particularly want to have anything to do with this topic and we're already approaching a derail, so I'm out of here.
posted by broadway bill at 1:23 PM on February 5, 2012


"Seriously, if you can honestly keep writing this sentence, I wish you well but I'm glad you're powerless to make global agricultural policy. Bringing down child mortality is great. Period. That's how the sentence goes. The rest of what your write is just a straw man; I can be anti-child mortality without being pro-tax cut."

I've got this box with a button on it. If you push the button, I'll reduce child mortality by 10%.

There's just one thing you need to know…
posted by Pinback at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2012


Moreover, I do not understand your contention that some association with Wendell Berry makes the operation and maintenance of a winery possible in Kentucky.

Do you really think there's no price premium to be had for making Berry-branded wine? It's a luxury good with a luxury label, and there aren't a lot of Kentucky wines selling at that premium. The overall point is simply that Berry has enough cultural and social capital to produce security, and he consumes his lifestyle as a luxury that most people globally can't afford.

If you push the button, I'll reduce child mortality by 10%.

Push it. Seriously, unless the "but..." is "...but I was lying and it actually increases child mortality!" then who the hell cares? This isn't a science-fiction thought experiment, but if it were then the Green Revolution would have been a 70% button, and it may yet turn out to be a 100% button when augmented with education and women's rights.

The argument seems to be that our grandchildren will have environmental problems they wouldn't have had if the Green Revolution had never occurred. That is almost certainly true. But the point is, those grandchildren wouldn't have existed without the Green Revolution. Oh, yours and mine, maybe: we're rich in a global sense. But several billion people are alive today because of Norman Borlaug: their children will face possibly insurmountable obstacles, but the alternative is that they or their parents would have died terrible deaths.

Starvation is a horrible population-control policy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2012


Wendell Berry's poetry inspires lives lived reflectively and with purpose; Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution makes those lives and inspiration possible.

Sure, I'll bite. I'm on the record as a pretty strong critic of the Green Revolution; not in that itself it is a failure, but that it's an unsustainable stopgap measure between a terribly mismanaged agricultural sector and a properly managed one, which we are still a long way from achieving. The Green Revolution is a success but it is also a failure to the extent that it has linked the price of food to the price of oil; that it has been permitted to expand and transform landscape unchecked by proper regulation identifying damaging externalities; and that it has taken control away from governments and placed it in the hands of a small group of transnational megacorporations. The technology itself is miraculous, and the importance of ongoing crop development cannot be understated, but Borlaug acknowledges it has not transformed the world into a utopia, and much more work needs to be done. Unfortunately the work being done now is GMO development behind closed doors in Monsanto labs, while agroecologists raise alarms on the many different ticking time bombs that have been put in place by mass-scale monocultures. Borlaug noted that family planning programs and heavy regulation of agricultural practices would be necessary to ensure that the Green Revolution didn't, well, destroy the entire planet trying to feed an unsustainably-growing human population. That was a very real possible outcome for him; and given the way things are currently going it's one we need to take seriously when we consider the apparent miracles this revolution has brought us.

Here's the truly relevant Borlaug quote (pdf): "And though I have no doubt yields will keep going up, whether they can go up enough to feed the population monster is another matter. Unless progress with agricultural yields remains very strong, the next century will experience sheer human misery that, on a numerical scale, will exceed the worst of everything that has come before."

He also wrote this op-ed slightly before he died, where he is critical of the overemphasis on corn in American policy. There's something we can all agree on. However his attitude that we need to continue to ramp up food production on a land base that is shrinking due to environmental degradation is stunning in its short-sightedness, or perhaps willful blindness. How can we possibly decouple food production from its environmental effects? If doing that is necessary to feed the world in the 21st century, how are we not screwed? Is this a well-earned faith in technology or a form of denial?

The math seems pretty simple to me: if the agricultural land base continues to shrink at a linear rate, and population increases at its current rate, then per-acre yields need to increase a great deal indeed. If agricultural production is actively harming the land base it relies on, then we're well and truly fucked unless we invent the Star Trek replicator sometime before 2100. And here I was hoping reading some Norman Borlaug would cheer me up a little...
posted by mek at 4:46 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Starvation is a horrible population-control policy.

What population control policy isn't seen as 'horrible'?

Suggest abortion and you get the pro-life and the 'that's eugenics' crowd.
Suggest war and you get the anti-war left complaining as long as the leader is "not of the left".
Suggest income and you get that's racist

Some would argue population is not a problem - therefore any "control" is horrible.

The math seems pretty simple to me: if the agricultural land base continues to shrink at a linear rate, and population increases at its current rate, then per-acre yields need to increase a great deal indeed.

One can look to Malthus' work on the topic.

And land looks like its less of a future issue than the change in the climate, the resistance to pesticides/herbicides and the end of cheap fossil fuels as input.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:20 PM on February 5, 2012


if the agricultural land base continues to shrink at a linear rate, and population increases at its current rate, then per-acre yields need to increase a great deal indeed. If agricultural production is actively harming the land base it relies on, then we're well and truly fucked unless we invent the Star Trek replicator sometime before 2100.

This is the strand of deep ecological thinking that troubles me: the demand for a steady-state utopia. Everything's got to last forever without changing. Because we haven't figured out the problems of the 22nd Century yet, Borlaug was supposed to ignore the suffering of the mid-20th Century? Meh.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:35 PM on February 5, 2012


I'm not saying that, and neither is Borlaug - but he's the one that brought up utopia. I'll go further than "steady-state utopia" because steady-state implies making do with the havoc we've already done to the environment. Even deep ecology has moved beyond this: we need to get past "not doing harm" and develop an agriculture which actively improves the land base, rather than exploits it for our short-term benefit. Ironically this attitude of improvement forms the very basis of the agricultural revolution, all the way back to the mid 18th century. As Borlaug rightly notes, feeding the world is a constant struggle and our work is far from done. Those who would claim the Green Revolution is "good enough" and gloss over its many flaws are not on his side; if we stop now the humanitarian disaster is worse than had we ever started, numerically. Again, Borlaug's words, not mine.

I'm definitely not willing to go as far as Berry, but I empathize with his logic. I also think that this "more people better" argument fails on its own merits: if the decision is between a peak population of 14 billion people in 2100 (UN's highest forecast) followed by the near-total collapse of civilization to sub-billion (aka the world population before 1800), or a steady population of 4 billion people for thousands of years, the latter is actually more people, and doesn't involve an apocalyptic starvation event and total environmental devastation.

Basically, I'm of the opinion that Green Revolution technologies without population control and environmentally-centered policies are worse than useless. I don't think Borlaug disagrees with any of that, nor should any member of the reality-based community.
posted by mek at 6:53 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


the is insulated from the real strains of agricultural poverty by the income from his poetry and essays, not to mention that his fame allows him to maintain a successful winery in Kentucky, which would otherwise be nearly impossible.

If I recall correctly, he's pretty honest about both the difficulty involved and to how helpful it can be to have some other form of income and success like his career if you're going to embark on a journey like his.

But I think it might be a mistake to confuse some of the specifics Berry offers with the values behind them. While I do think it's important to consider them seriously as a challenge, I suspect the core issues are really about whether or not we think closely about and retain the ability to take care of ourselves, each other, and the places in which we live. And beyond that, perhaps to live within the bounds of joy and sorrow that mark the human condition. The specifics are means. They may not be the only ones. They're valuable either way, though, both as instructions and embodiments that enable us to come in contact with concrete consequences of important values.

To come at this from a tangential non-Berry specific angle... a while back I saw some minimalist advice making the rounds (think Mark Pilgrim had it up on his blog for a bit). It included steps like this:
* Stop buying things you don’t need
* Pay off your debts
* Get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t fit in your home
* Get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t fit in one room of your home
* Get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t fit in a suitcase
* Get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t fit in a backpack
* Get rid of the backpack

This is the kind of advice that many people tend to either dismiss as just unreasonable -- incompatible with living as they've become accustomed and even acculturated to live -- or (in rarer cases) as a revelation burning in stone tablets to be observed literally and carefully.

I do happen to think many people could benefit from literally reading and observing this sequence. But the real benefit isn't in the specific actions, it's in the perspective that you'd arrive at through thoughtfully coming to grips with doing these things (or things driven by the same values). In the process you'd learn to consider how anything you can't carry can be a chain, how accumulation of obligations or things can lock you in place and distract you from your callings and community... and to reflect on the fact that one way or another eventually you *will* be surrendering even so much as a backpack, and you'd better consider what valuable means in face of that fact.

There is some risk in this style of thinking in that it allows one to evade the real work involved while congratulating oneself for "seriously thinking" about the principles. I know this because I'm guilty of it sometimes. I still think it's valuable to recognize certain specifics are not necessarily the only embodiment or implementation of worthwhile values.

I like to think it's possible that someday we'll be possessed of tools that will enable people with a modicum of intelligence to fabricate and repair computers -- and maybe even the very tools I'm talking about -- at home, on a scale of local and personal responsibility, powered primarily by the sun.
posted by weston at 7:00 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Basically, I'm of the opinion that Green Revolution technologies without population control and environmentally-centered policies are worse than useless.

Again, you seem to be arguing against a straw man. I'm not saying the Green Revolution solved all our problems; I'm saying it was and is an important and valuable step towards making those problems soluble. But say it with me: THERE IS NO FINAL SOLUTION.

What population control policy isn't seen as 'horrible'?

It's pretty clear that giving women the technologies and legal rights necessary to control their own reproduction is a better method of population control than hoping they'll starve to death.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:11 PM on February 5, 2012


Again, you seem to be arguing against a straw man.

Nope, just the status quo. Heck, the USA had a specific ban on abortion attached to all of their foreign assistance until Obama got rid of it in 2009, thankfully still during Borlaug's lifetime. I'm not arguing against the Green Revolution in principle, just specific consequences of it in practice. We all seem to agree it has fallen short in many respects and retains the potential for major disaster, no?
posted by mek at 7:36 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this essay.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:14 PM on February 5, 2012


This seems like it's been quite a derail, and I apologize for my part in it. I'll just end my part by noting that famines have almost always been more political and economic occurences than mere food shortages. Mike Davis' "Late Victorian Holocausts" is a good popular treatment of the political dynamics behind three late nineteenth century famines. So the argument that the Green Revolution was somehow the most wonderful thing in modern history, on top of everything else, also completely ignores the context that famine takes place in. All the genetically modified rice in the world won't help a population that a government has decided should starve.

This dismissal of externalities - environmental problems, resource usage, political contexts - can seem noble in defense of starving children, but unfortunately, that doesn't trump everything else. Just because an outcome is a good thing doesn't make any means to reach that outcome A-OK, and it doesn't change the nature of the universe so that all the consequences of a certain approach to reach that outcome magically disappear because we'd really like them to. That doesn't mean that I am in favor of starving children (and it's sad that I even have to make that statement). That does mean I don't believe the assumptions behind the Green Revolution are the only, the best, or the most sustainable way of getting there.

Anyways....

"Unrealistic" is a word that's been thrown around quite a bit here, and thinking about why that is is directly relevant to what Berry wrote in the linked article.

Any criticism of existing power structures will inevitably be described, at some point, as "unrealistic". One of the most common criticisms of the Occupy movement - and, incidentally, virtually all of the other global protest movements in 2011 and 2012 (check out some of the commentary from the Mubarak regime on the protests prior to its downfall; the parallels are quite remarkable) - has been that the protesters are ill-informed and unrealistic. To be realistic generally involves some variation on a theme of "growing up", which seems to mean going home and waiting for redress of grievances through established channels, even though the reason nearly all of these protests are taking place is precisely because redress of grievances through established channels is not happening.

Realism seems to consist of whatever assumptions, beliefs, techniques, structures, and processes that got whoever considers themselves to be realistic to the position where they are and confirms their sense that they belong there and that history itself has led up to this moment. It reminds me of Sinclair Lewis' portrayal of the good, upstanding elites of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota from his novel "Main Street". There's a certain timelessness about realism, a contextlessness, an almost surgical excision of memory and imagination and empathy. It's a sense that the way things are now is the way they've always been and the way they'll always be, even when surrounded by clear evidence that this simply cannot be true and has never been true.

And to top it all off, this stunted way of thinking is labeled "realistic". It is perfectly realistic to imagine that an agriculture that chews up inputs faster than they can be replenished is normal, even though by the gauge of reality, it is deeply abnormal and unsustainable. It is perfectly realistic to imagine that science-with-a-capital-S will get us out of any fix because its track record of neat inventions over the past few centuries somehow proves that there will always be a last-minute invention to keep humanity from going over a cliff no matter how fast humanity tries to get to the cliff before any salvation is possible. It is perfectly realistic for financiers to imagine that their profits can continue to increase forever. It is perfectly realistic for the one percent to demand ever more protections and ever more bailouts and ever more austerity for the masses.

Wendell Berry, throughout his writings both in nonfiction and, sometimes even more effectively in his fiction and poetry (I confess I'm quite a fan), has shown a marked preference for reality over realism, and I argue most of the global protest movements have similarly shown a clear awareness that reality is different from the consensus of realism. "Another world is possible" has been derided as a naive and, yes, unrealistic slogan, but contrasting it to Margaret Thatcher's "there is no alternative" shows very bluntly the difference.

Berry also writes about things that are very hard to translate into Metafilterese snark - things like the love of place, compassion, wisdom, goodness. And I think there's a definite link with the new global protest movements there as well. The very idea of a General Assembly calls into question assumptions that human nature is base and vicious, purely motivated out of self-interest. Another component of realism is its low opinion of humanity. The realistic attitude holds that the best that can be expected from humans is that they channel their urges to steal and kill one another into consuming products and, occasionally, voting to choose between several officially-sanctioned alternatives. Realism is Hobbesian, but reality often appears to agree more with Kropotkin. History and anthropology and sociology aren't always a record of atrocity and misery, and one of the most interesting areas of scientific research lately has been into the nature of cooperation, revealing that people may be better than their superiors think they are. Studies of how people react in disasters give even deeper confirmation to a more hopeful view of humanity.

Wendell Berry's work - his life - has shown that other worlds are possible than what have been presented to us as "realistic". His writings have changed my life for the better, and have changed the lives of many.

Snark away.
posted by jhandey at 6:38 AM on February 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


But I think it might be a mistake to confuse some of the specifics Berry offers with the values behind them. While I do think it's important to consider them seriously as a challenge, I suspect the core issues are really about whether or not we think closely about and retain the ability to take care of ourselves, each other, and the places in which we live.

Yeah, Berry is pretty clear, in the opening of "Why I'm Not Going to Buy A Computer" to highlight his own complicity in the systems he's critiquing and express his frustration with his inability to have complete follow-through on his convictions. I don't think he wrote the essay to tell us not to buy computers, but to get us to think deeply about why we buy anything, ever. It's less about sharing Berry's exact values or guidelines and more about being willing to think about the logical implications of our values.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:19 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Snark away.

Reducing those you disagree with to mere snarkers is a sure sign that you don't intend to engage charitably. Perhaps you should reread Standing By Words.

Mike Davis' "Late Victorian Holocausts" is a good popular treatment of the political dynamics behind three late nineteenth century famines.

Davis is not the last word on famine. Amartya Sen is closer to such a last word, though, and they make similar points: food entitlements derived from political and social institutions are the key to preventing famine. However, Paul Collier has persuasively argued that there are material antecedents to the political changes necessary to guarantee food entitlements, so the last word, like the final solution, may still be in the process of being formulated and spoken.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:24 AM on February 6, 2012


Reducing those you disagree with to mere snarkers is a sure sign that you don't intend to engage charitably. Perhaps you should reread Standing By Words.

Implying that people who disagree with you don't value the lives of starving children enough is a pretty sure sing that you don't intend to engage charitably as well. Not to mention also being horribly offensive.
posted by jhandey at 10:02 AM on February 6, 2012


There's a big difference between, "If you disagree, you're just snarking" and "If you dismantle the Green Revolution, millions will die." One is about the interlocutor, and one is about the world.

Since that's the actual impact of the Green Revolution you're opposing, you must face the entailments of your position. Or else change your position.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:08 AM on February 6, 2012


There's a big difference between, "If you disagree, you're just snarking" and "If you dismantle the Green Revolution, millions will die." One is about the interlocutor, and one is about the world.

Not really. Both statements are untrue, although there is a difference in that I never said the first statement and you've been doubling down on the second.

Since that's the actual impact of the Green Revolution you're opposing, you must face the entailments of your position. Or else change your position.

Here's the thing, though - you seem to be basing your argument on several premises which I find highly questionable at best, and that you seem to be assuming as givens. Among these are:

1) the only way to feed x many people is through using the methods of the Green Revolution. 40 years of organic agriculture has called this into question, including, most recently, U.N. reports concluding that using organic techniques may, in both the short and long term, be more sustainable and more effective than industrial agriculture.

2) that environmental considerations and the associated unintended consequences are effectively irrelevant.

a) that water is somehow effectively infinite and that the effects of the Green Revolution's techniques upon water supplies somehow don't matter. These include drawing down of aquifers, pollution of water supplies with fertilizers and other chemicals, often leading to downstream effects negatively impacting ocean life (and incidentally harming the ability of oceans to assist in feeding 7 billion people).
b) that nonhuman nature has no standing and no value - that humans have the right to crowd out nonhuman species because of their superior status.
c) that unintended consequences don't happen. Salinization of fields due to heavy irrigation has been a scourge of civilizations since Sumer. The planet is littered with the ruins of cultures that have overshot the carrying capacity of their land base.
d) that the availability of fossil fuels for fertilizer and fuel is not a factor. It is. Even international agencies are now stating that peak oil is in our near future or has already hit. Shale gas supplies aren't nearly as abundant as has been stated. If the fertilizers to put on the crops and the fuel for the machines become more expensive, then it's a sensible thing to think about what else should be done.

3) You seem to be falling victim to the Rhonda Byrne fallacy as detailed in "The Secret". I'll say it again and again and again - just because an outcome may be desirable doesn't mean the universe owes it to us to produce it. Stating that there may be problems with the Green Revolution is not a moral statement. You can debate the facts all you like, and that's okay. But it's not a statement of morality to say, for example, that my gas tank is running empty and that I will need to refill it in order to continue to drive my car, whether or not I have the money to do so. It may be unjust that I don't have enough money to do so, but the gas tank will not refill magically because it would be a good thing for it to do.

4) Berry goes into a lot more detail in many places (as do many, many others, including many from the countries who are the "beneficiaries" of the Green Revolution), but there are social implications of the Green Revolution as well. These aren't minor.

5) You assume bad faith on the part of anyone who disagrees with you (and much, much more offensively than making the observation that Metafilter can be a pretty snarky place that has, in the past, not dealt well with "fuzzy" concepts). You've just said that opposing the impact of the Green Revolution = not valuing starving children. You've said this repeatedly. This is horribly, horribly offensive on many levels, but let's just take one consequence of what you're saying. You've set up a situation that no decent person can take issue with. You've made your conclusion virtually unfalsifiable. There's no possibility of a respectful discussion when the other position is automatically "supporter of child starvation".

And if you can't see the difference between "snarky people may not like certain words" and "you support child starvation if you take issue with the Green Revolution", there's an unbridgeable chasm there which nothing I can possibly say will cross.
posted by jhandey at 10:48 AM on February 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wendell Berry, on Fora.tv: Slow Food Nation closing.

Fora.tv: Slow Food Nation: the world food crisis.
posted by kneecapped at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2012


Well, at least now we can talk about premises.

1. Industrialized organic farming can certainly feed lots of folks. But that's Green Revolution 2.0, not Berry-style farming. The Green Revolution is basically a series of techniques: irrigation, pesticides, nitrogen fertilizer, and high yield cereals that were not being used together in much of the world. If you keep the emphasis on high-yield strains, you can replace a lot of those techniques with different chemicals, but you're still on the Borlaug path.

Is the UN report you have in mind the one written by Oliver de Schutter, "Agroecology and the right to food"? Have you also read the NYtimes Room for Debate exchange on that report and related issues? It's here. I particularly liked Jonathan Foley's piece. Also worth looking at: "Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development" and Jason Clay's "Agriculture from 2020 to 2050."

2a, c, d. Yeah, I don't assume we can continue along the same path forever: it's worked so far, but we'll need to adapt. (No final solution, remember?) But we can't backtrack, either.

2b. Yeah, I'm an anthropocentrist. A human racist. You can pitch just about any important environmental policy to me in terms of environmental justice (i.e. human suffering), but I assume that humans are the source of moral value and that if you have to choose between saving a human child and a chimpanzee, you should always save the human. I may be wrong about this, and smart people definitely disagree. But that's how I approach the question.

3. I don't know what you're talking about but I gather from the comparison to The Secret that you think I'm dumb. I'm not sure why what you right about magical thinking doesn't apply equally well to the "Another World Is Possible" folks. Perhaps you'll explain?

4. Yup! Good social implications! Fewer people laboring all the time. Love it. More please.

5. Nope: I didn't say that, and it's notable that you put those words in quotations marks but they're not the ones I used. I said, "If you dismantle the Green Revolution, millions will die." I'm still saying that. I have good reasons to believe it, and I'm not saying it to insult you: I'm saying it because I think it is true.

It's like this statement: "If you drop a nuclear bomb on a major city, millions will die." You can disagree with my assertion, you can choose to be insulted, or you can give me evidence to disprove it (and I love being proven wrong: it means I get to be right later!) but for the time being I believe it to be true and it seems important enough to mention, especially to folks who complain that my comments somehow suffer from realism. ("Realist" is by far the weirdest insult I've ever heard, by the way.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2012


I'm not sure why what you right about magical thinking doesn't apply equally well to the "Another World Is Possible" folks. Perhaps you'll explain?

This wasn't directed to me but I'll drop my 2 cents: because it's ridiculous to assume that what is essentially a social problem can somehow be more difficult (or impossible!) to overcome than physical constraints on human behaviour.


You say: Yeah, I don't assume we can continue along the same path forever: it's worked so far, but we'll need to adapt. (No final solution, remember?) But we can't backtrack, either.

But that's precisely what will happen eventually, due to our constantly putting the cart ahead of the horses and hoping to find a kludge in the future to deal with our poor planning: the backtracking becomes inevitable, all you can do is shape it in whatever way you think it's best (either let things run its course and end with 300 million people living like kings and 4 billion starving, or adopting some of Berry's "unrealistic" prescriptions, or any other scenario you prefer to imagine).

Let's generously assume that a sustainable in a millenial scale Green Revolution 2.0 is just around the corner that will truly raise human carrying capacity to 20 billion well-fed people (as in, not just _temporarily_ increasing food production by mining mineral nutrients and dumping them into the ocean). When many decades in the future population overshoots carrying capacity again and some people start warning that population should not only stop growing but actually decline for a while, do you honestly expect there won't be many more who'll say "This again? Won't you guys ever learn? It's unrealistic to assume that we can just change our way of life, despite the countless historical examples that such a thing has happened many times!". Do you expect future civilisation to find yet another kludge?

If you do, you are indeed a victim to Rhonda Byrne's fallacy (as you are if you assume that by the time no further "scientific" solutions are possible, population will have conveniently stabilised); if you don't, then backtracking is inevitable, though obviously not desirable for the people involved, especially if they've been raised in a fantasy of perpetual progress.

Instead of taking advantage of the welcome temporary headroom afforded by the GR to treat the actual causes of famine like Borlaug himself warned about, we just sit on our hands and are arguably left with worse longer-term prospects now than in his time. Of course Borlaug is a hero, and of course not letting people die at the time was the best option, but the GR should have been accompanied by lots of other "unrealistic" changes that would allow us to drop it ASAP. Instead we doubled-down on the unsustainable path.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:56 AM on February 7, 2012


anotherpanacea, I think we're speaking completely different languages, and frankly, I have better things to do than keep trying to convince King Canute that the tides won't obey his commands.

If anybody is interested, here's some good reading/listening:

Agro-ecology and the right to food - the most recent UN report I referred to earlier from March 2011.

Press release for the UN report.

A summary of the report from civileats.com.

The Green Revolution Revisited: Critique and Alternatives, edited by Bernhard Glaser.

The death of Ramón González: the modern agricultural dilemma, by Angus Lindsay Wright.

Wes Jackson (a close friend of Wendell Berry - I think someone posted an interesting article by Berry on Metafilter recently...) speaking to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil USA in November 2011. He starts discussing the Green Revolution at the 18 minute mark or so.

Sorry about the derail. Thank you to the original poster for the article.
posted by jhandey at 6:26 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Almost forgot Vandana Shiva - The Violence of the Green Revolution is a particularly good read.

Here's a presentation by her on YouTube.
posted by jhandey at 6:31 AM on February 7, 2012


it's ridiculous to assume that what is essentially a social problem can somehow be more difficult (or impossible!) to overcome than physical constraints on human behaviour.

Between overcoming physical constraints and changing human behavior, I tend to vote for overcoming restraints, yes. I'm not sure why that's ridiculous: I feel like we've got a pretty good track record with overcoming physical constraints, and a pretty abysmal track record with changing human behavior. But again, I'm happy to be persuaded otherwise!

Let's generously assume that a sustainable in a millenial scale Green Revolution 2.0 is just around the corner that will truly raise human carrying capacity to 20 billion well-fed people

I feel like you're missing the point: if we can sustain 20 billion people, we've got this problem licked until midway through the 22nd Century. From my perspective, that's a total victory. Given those numbers, more people will live and die in the 21st Century than have ever lived before: we should call that a win. I don't know if future generations will find another kludge: perhaps they'll die instead. But I feel like we owe those 20 billion people a chance at solving the puzzle, rather than declaring by fiat (and frankly without a scintilla of a chance of actually enforcing your decree) that they must never be born.

the GR should have been accompanied by lots of other "unrealistic" changes that would allow us to drop it ASAP.

Perhaps this is the real point of contention: what changes do you think we ought to have made? Depending on your answer, we might actually be in complete agreement! You and the other commenters may not agree on this, but at least it's a start: if Borlaug was a hero and we need only work harder on managing population, then I have some good ideas about how to do that. But they depend on women's rights, not on Berry-style smallholder farming.

I have better things to do than keep trying to convince King Canute that the tides won't obey his commands.

I can't imagine where I got the idea that you're refusing to engage and reducing your interlocutors to mere snark. Perfomative contradiction, much? (And note that I already posted that first de Schutter paper: it looks like you really do refuse to read those you attack with even a modicum of charity.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:32 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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